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To the casual observer, Jennifer Lopez’s professional journey might look a little disjointed. She’s made jewelry, managed social media campaigns, taught metalsmithing, built apps, designed bedroom accessories, and launched a food start-up. But Lopez believes vision and innovation connect every milestone on her path.
“To be human is to be creative, and to be creative is to make.”
Lopez has spent her entire life making things and as vice president of product development at Capital One she’s continuing that effort. Although she may no longer make tangible products, she’s blending her artistry with a passion for technology to empower teams, build networks, and create the things that help the banking giant and its customers thrive.
Growing up in an immigrant family with resourceful parents, her mom is from Puerto Rico and her dad is from Mexico, taught Lopez the value of hard work and the satisfaction that comes from building things with one’s own hands. If the family car broke down or a pipe leaked in their New York apartment, they fixed it themselves. Lopez learned how to sew, saw, paint, and patch. She studied fine arts and sculpture before earning an MFA in human-centered design and innovation at Stanford University.
In 2013, Lopez joined Capital One to start the growing institution’s design practice. The bank was launching a digital transformation that would completely alter the way customers bank in the technological age. “We weren’t just building products, we were creating experiences to change how consumers engage with Capital One, and design became more important than ever before,” she explains.
Lopez assembled a team of designers to work alongside product managers, engineers, marketers, lawyers, and others to bring websites, banking applications, and various new solutions to life.
As the digital revolution evolved, design took center stage. Lopez was Capital One’s first design strategist, and she got busy researching the behavioral science behind how humans read emails and explaining why certain buttons should be specific colors. She started training her business and tech counterparts on design and the user experience, and before long, she found herself building something again: an entire design department, from the ground up.
The space in which employees “explore the intersection of emerging technology and finance” is known as the Capital One Innovation Lab, which consists of two physical workspaces that foster collaboration and inventiveness.
Inside, Lopez leads a diverse team that tackles complex projects, solves mind-bending problems, organizes hackathons, develops novel products, and reimagines banking. They iterate daily, question the status quo, and take on dozens of new projects every year. Solutions generated by those inside the Lab improve fraud detection, enhance online shopping, and help bank employees do their jobs better.
Lopez also runs a data team. Her technicians take “dirty” data written in ways people can’t understand and “clean” it for human consumption. Customers who access their online bank account can find an itemized purchase history complete with each merchant’s logo, physical address, website, and other details.
In 2019, Lopez and her colleagues decided to refresh Ready, Set, Bank, an outdated online portal created to teach senior citizens how to use online banking tools. They sponsored an internal hackathon, researched customer behavior, mapped frequent problems, and solicited new ideas. The process uncovered valuable intel: older users were scared to make mistakes with their money. Instead of watching tutorials or reading instructions, they wanted to practice.
Lopez’s team introduced a functional demo account that allowed users to practice depositing funds, setting up payments, and transferring money. Users who become familiar with online banking practices before logging into their own accounts don’t have to worry about making costly errors or exposing their personal information. When the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person banking difficult, Capital One was ready to serve its senior populations.
After noticing a rise in suspicious activity related to online shopping, those working at the Lab leveraged modern payment tokens to give users a safe and seamless way to make purchases. A web browser plugin creates a unique virtual card number (VCN), which is connected to the physical debit or credit card, associated with each individual online merchant. If merchant A gets hacked, shoppers can still use their card online with merchant B because only the VCN used at merchant A was impacted.
Capital One’s internal intellectual property program creates pathways for those working in the Innovation Lab to become inventors and receive patents. That’s especially important for Lopez’s fellow Latinx professionals.
“We’re shattering the stereotype that says Latinos are not inventive,” she explains, adding that the infrastructure they previously lacked is now in place. “I want more Latinos patenting because that’s a record of our inventiveness, and what doesn’t get recorded doesn’t become a part of history.”
Lopez remembers when it was rare for her to meet another Latina working in the STEM fields but says it’s becoming more common, though she still wishes it happened more often. She sponsors internal diversity initiatives as well as supporting various minority business resources groups. Last year, Lopez debuted her latest creation: a Latino technology conference. She invited heavy hitters like NASA astronaut Ellen Ochoa and virtual and augmented reality pioneer Nonny de la Peña. It’s just one more way she’s pouring into others in her industry.
“The future of financial services is yet to be made,” Jennifer Lopez says. “And I get to make it.”